As cannabis becomes legal and more socially acceptable worldwide, a growing number of people are using it for both recreational and medicinal reasons. The fastest growing demographic to embrace marijuana, surprisingly, is elderly Baby Boomers.
Baby Boomers: A Growing Market for Cannabis
The reasons for seniors to use marijuana are many. They are the first generation of elderly Americans to have grown up with marijuana as a common recreational drug. With cannabis now legalized or at least decriminalized in many areas, they can finally indulge without fear of repercussions.
In addition, the golden years bring new freedom from drug tests and other employment-related barriers to cannabis use. Our newest batch of senior citizens has plenty of time and money to enjoy marijuana and few good reasons to just say no.
Last, the health benefits of medical marijuana are particularly attractive to this age group. Many of them are beginning to deal with age-related complaints such as joint pain, glaucoma, and other medical problems that cannabis is known to alleviate. In an age where other pain medications are increasingly difficult to get, marijuana may be the best non-prescription alternative.
Decreased Stigma for All Ages
The elderly Americans using cannabis in growing numbers are not new to the drug. The first waves of hippies are now in their seventies or older. Many of them have enjoyed marijuana in the distant past.
However, there was a stigma regarding cannabis use until very recently. People who smoked it were viewed as stoners. Many workplaces tested for THC routinely. Smoking pot could land you in criminal courts, family courts, and a variety of difficult situations.
As a result, many Boomers gave up marijuana when they settled into families and careers. However, this generation is not convinced by the scare tactics that kept previous cohorts from using cannabis en masse. In many cases, senior cannabis use is more of a homecoming than an experiment.
In a society increasingly accepting of recreational marijuana use, these reasons not to enjoy cannabis have dissipated like, well, smoke. There are no longer career consequences or undercover cops to fret about. Nothing stands between our seniors and the high they once craved.
In addition, the new availability of upscale smoking supplies appeals especially to baby boomers. The range of aesthetically appealing vape pens and specialty cannabis products gives cannabis use the feeling of a hobby meant for connoisseurs, similar to collecting fine wine or Cuban cigars.
A Geriatric Healthcare Revolution
The purported health benefits of cannabis are another oft-cited reason for the increase in use among seniors. The generation of flower children and Woodstock is far less likely to place their faith in pharmaceuticals than a natural herb.
A study in 2016 found that seniors in states that decriminalized medical marijuana are receiving fewer prescriptionsfor drugs that treat chronic pain, depression, and anxiety, and other chronic complaints that cannabis is believed to treat. Cannabis may soon have a secondary benefit of decreasing the growing cost of Medicare Part D.
Although marijuana has not been conclusively proven to help many of the ailments it is purported to treat, it is increasingly preferred over prescription drugs. This is particularly true of opioid pain medication. The American Medical Association reported last year that opioid prescriptions drop 14% in the year after a state legalizes medical marijuana. Even people who remain uncomfortable with marijuana use tend to prefer it over the negative societal and health effects of opioids.
There was a time when grandmothers all over the nation took a handful of pills every day to treat a laundry list of conditions. Today’s grandma may instead take an edible or smoke a joint.
Considering that even the best pharmaceuticals have side effects, it is hard to see this change as a negative one. The opioid crisis remains one of our nation’s top public health problems. Most of the health concerns associated with marijuana disproportionately affect young people and growing brains.
A Growing Market
Senior citizens are becoming an unlikely yet red hot market for businesses that offer cannabis products. Several edible companies such as Colorado-based Wana Brands are creating products specifically for seniors, such as extended-release CBC capsules.
The world of legalized marijuana can be overwhelming to elderly people, many of whom last bought marijuana in a park in the seventies. Today’s dispensaries can have hundreds of products, from lotions to sprays to candies to dog treats. Many products boast a specific CBC to THC ratio, a new consideration when using cannabis as a medication.
Dispensaries are working hard to appeal to an older and more sophisticated client base. Dispensaries in California are offering shuttle buses and special senior citizen discounts to capture this market. Many dispensaries are appealing to this demographic by adopting a more sleek and professional appearance. The dispensaries favored by older Americans often feel more like an Apple Store than a head shop, with glass shelves and employees in business casual wear.
The Bottom Line on High Seniors
Social scientists and pharmaceutical companies ignore this trend at their peril. We do not yet know the long term consequences of a generation of stoned grandparents. We also do not know how marijuana use will affect pharmaceutical use and other medical costs over the long term.
In the meantime, corporate American appears to be planning for a generation of seniors who use cannabis the way previous generations used pills. Pharmaceutical companies are beginning to dabble in the marijuana game. Geriatricians and family doctors have been calling for increased research on cannabis use in the aged so they can give evidence-based recommendations to a growing number of patients who are interested.
There is no indication that this is a mere trend. Almost ten percent of Americans aged 50-64 years old use marijuana. For generations to come, marijuana may become more associated with grandparents than with teen stoners. This is a dramatic societal shift that could have huge effects on the way our nation views recreational drug use and the golden decades after retirement.